On Theater: 'La Cage' a drag — and really funny

The musical "La Cage aux Folles" has quite a pedigree. Born as a French movie in 1973, it was Americanized and set to music on stage a decade later, then morphed into a "straight" movie comedy called "The Bird Cage" in 1996 with uber-comics Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, before its first Broadway revival in 2004 and its second in 2010.

That second revival of the stage production, with Jerry Herman's music and lyrics, is now in residence at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. It's a treatise for tolerance and respect for all lifestyle choices, but director Terry Johnson never lets this message cloud the inherent hilarity of the piece.

By now the plot line is quite familiar – Georges, who owns a glitzy night club featuring drag queens, enjoys a two-decade romantic relationship with the club's star performer, Albin, who camps up the stage as Zaza. He also has a 20-year-old son, spawned during a "moment of weakness," whom he and Albin have raised lovingly.

It's when the son announces his engagement to a lovely young lady – whose father's politics are somewhat to the right of Sarah Palin's – that the feathers hit the fan.

Can Georges nudge Albin out of the spotlight long enough for a parental meeting without stepping on emotional toes? What do you think?

The Segerstrom Center production, headlined by the well-tanned veteran actor George Hamilton, is as flashy and funny as you might expect, and it offers a bonus in the richly robust performance of Christopher Sieber as the thin-skinned diva Albin/Zaza. Sieber, by the way, took over the role of Georges on Broadway last year, then shifted to Albin when Hamilton came aboard for the tour.

Both actors are excellent, with Hamilton's sophisticated smoothness offering sharp contrast to Sieber's fluttery histrionics. Think Cary Grant and Zero Mostel paired romantically and you've got a pretty good idea what to expect.

Subtlety is never much of a consideration here, but showmanship reigns supreme – as when Sieber wrings out the first-act curtain closer, "I Am What I Am," gaining momentum on each verse. It's little wonder that the Forbidden Broadway satirists re-dubbed this number "I Ham What I Ham."

Michael Lowney offers a fine sense of "normality" as the son and Allison Blair McDowell is a visual treat as his fiancee. All strive, mostly unsuccessfully, to keep the show from being stolen by Jeigh Madjus as the pair's flouncing butler/maid.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Katie Donohue as the fiancee.

The arrival of the girl's parents (Bernard Burak Sheredy and Cathy Newman) thrusts the comic discomfort into high gear, nicely amplified by Gay Marshall as the proprietress of a neighboring nightspot. Dale Hensley scores physically as the club's injury-prone stage manager.

For playgoers whose only reference point is "The Bird Cage," there is, indeed, a rollicking scene in which Hamilton's character attempts to "butch up" Sieber's flamer by teaching him to "walk like John Wayne." And the chorus line – "Les Cagelles" – is outstanding, several excelling in gymnastics as well as dance.

Preceding the show, a chorine billed only as "Lily White" warms up the audience with an extended comic number, which can become a bit tiresome. A suggestion: Turn down the volume of your mike a few decibels. They can hear you out on Bristol Street.

"La Cage aux Folles" has entertained in many incarnations over the past four decades, none more fast, furious and funny as the current version at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

If You Go

What: "La Cage aux Folles"

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays until Aug. 5

Cost: Tickets start at $22.50

Call: (714) 556-2787 or online at SCFTA.org

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